Site Before WWII

Original map portion: The National Archives (PRO) Ref. No. ZO5 12/92 Acc. No. 942/1969

The above image is part of a larger map published in 1920, showing the site upon which Tweedsmuir Camp was erected. It should be noted that the numbered indices, compass directions, cross hatching and detail (1) to the south of map are not part of the original. They have been added to assist the description of the land as it may have appeared before the camp's construction.

The larger map mentioned above is part of a larger layout of the South Western Division of Surrey and shows the location, cross hatched, of what became known as Tweedsmuir Camp. Although the site was first surveyed in 1871, the map includes subsequent detail that was added between 1871 and 1920. In 1913, for instance, the Thursley Parish boundary was revised and plotted as dots along the graphic representing the stream. As more sophisticated scientific instrumentation came into service it was used between 1912 and 1913 to, for example, plot more accurately the land's level. In the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries the whole area was associated with the silk dying industry, hence Dye House and Dye House Road.

Between the wars

The site was purchased by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 1922 the same year in which Lloyd George resigned as Prime Minister of Britain and Churchill bought "Chartwell", his country residence in Kent. This was only four years after the cessation of the First World War. The treaty of Versailles demoted Germany to a minor player in the European political arena, giving the Great War Allies but one reason to believe that they had secured a lasting peace and that such horror would never be experienced again. In many respects they were right. Enemies would never again lob shells at each other across desolate pieces of land strewn with soldiers' bodies, dead horses and mortar craters whilst entrenched in squalid ground fissures strategists called trenches. Instead a new, more mobile kind of war came into existance, which reared its ugly head twenty one years later, in 1939. Ironically, although the First World War ruined Britain's economy and marked the beginning of the end of its empire, because of the new 'mandates' awarded at Versailles the British Empire grew larger than ever before. In geographical terms, it reached its peak in 1922, stretching to some 40 mainland territories and 450 million people.

This was the backdrop to the site's evolution as a centre for military activity. From 1922 to 1940 it grew into a tented summer camp for sections of the British Army. Named after a near by village, Thursley Summer Camp was used as a place for recuperation and training by some British soldiers of that period.

Clues as to how the location appeared before World War Two can be established by making a study of the photograph of Thursley Summer Camp, the 1920 map, other documentary evidence such as Canadian WWII Diaries, and the site's present terrain. In an attempt to reconstruct an impression of the original site, before Tweedsmuir Camp was erected, numbered indices are included on the above map portion to identify significant features that have since been concealed by a thick forest of Scots Pine and undergrowth.

Meadow and Beansides Wood

When we lived in the camp between 1948 and 1957 as children of parents who were in the Polish Resettlement Corps, the land to the south of the site was a field, or meadow, enclosed by a wire fence (1) with access afforded to it by a wooden gate situated just off the main camp road. In the south western corner, as at present, was Beansides Wood (2), which we remember being fenced off with wire (two strands of which were barbed) pinned to hardwood posts; very much as it is today albeit the fence being in a state of disrepair. It is highly unlikely that the meadow or Beansides were hemmed in by either a wire fence or hedgerow before the site's purchase by the MoD because the Enclosure Acts, past mostly between 1760 and 1830, forced land owners to, among other demands, combine small plots of land into larger areas.

These features, the meadow and Beansides Wood, despite having signs of some constructional activity, provide a tantalising glimpse of how the site looked before the Royal Canadian Engineers moved in to start their work on the camp in 1941.

Landscape before the camp's construction


Before WWII, running parallel to the stream (3), was a water management canal (4) some 3 meters in width, 1.5 meters in depth and, as suggested by the graphics on the above map, lined by a hedgerow. Today the southern end of the canal (5) and its north west end (6) are just about detectable from Dye House Road and Thursley Road respectively. More obvious canal remnants exist to the eastern sides of both the meadow and the existing parade ground, one of the few WWII military relics remaining on the present site. Although evidence on the ground suggests the canal was blind at both ends, graphic (7) on the 1920 map implies that water in it followed a gentle, naturally sloping course in the same direction as the flow of the stream (8). When Tweedsmuir Camp was constructed in the summer and autumn of 1941, an estimated 25% of the canal was filled in. It appears that the levelled land has altered the water table, causing excess rainwater from Beansides Wood to cascade across the site and collect at its extreme northern end near Truxford, creating a waterlogged physiognomy that is akin to the Everglades in Florida, America.

Heading northwards, the canal passed under an attractive, rural, vernacular style bridge (9) constructed from stone that can be found today in small quantities on, for example, the existing camp site, in Beansides Wood and Houndown. Metalwork that remains cemented into one side of the bridge implies that a farm gate once bisected its length. When we gave a talk to the History of Thursley Society on 11 September 2003 about our experiences of living in the camp, a local gentleman suggested that the bridge was used to herd cattle from one side of the canal to the other.

Scene A problem relating to the function of any canal with closed ends is overspill, and it is highly likely that this could have occurred with the canal being described here, especially during winter months. This type of hazard is usually controlled by the inclusion of a sluice gate or weir to allow the run-off of excess water. Graphic (10) suggests that such a feature may indeed have been in place next to the stone bridge. Water would have been released at this point to follow a path natural to the terrain. As the excess water meandered in and out of a hedgerow, snaking its way northward (11), its course dropped progressively by nearly 10 meters in height before entering the stream near Truxford. The excess water passed under a culvert (12) overlaid by an earth mound. Nowadays, corroboration for the existence of a run-off course from the canal's overspill can be seen by making a study of the terrain immediately before and after the culvert.

The canal was excavated along a natural ridge, suggesting that it was an intentional piece of engineering. It involved the removal of a huge quantity of earth to create a channel, large enough in scale, to arrest flood water running down from Beansides Wood the height of which is a substantial 91.5 meters above sea level. Such purposeful activity implies that the canal was probably driven through to reduce the risk of the site's low lying areas, particularly the stream valley, from flooding; as it does to the north of the site today. The most compelling evidence for this assumption comprises several entries in Canadian military War Diaries one of which was written on 18 March 1942.

"A violent storm broke out today flooding the camp. Orderly Room was surrounded by water and personnel had to balance themselves on the raised side of the roads in order to keep from getting washed away by the torrent of water rushing down the road."

{1 Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1942 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Even today careful observation of the site discloses a similar pattern of events. Tweedsmuir's sloping concrete remains, for example, are periodically cleared of silt and humus by rain water that runs down from the high ground in Beansides and Houndown. In other parts of the site west facing vertical features have trapped large volumes of silt washed down from Beansides Wood. And an accruement of soil on the bend in the camp's main road, immediately below Beansides, has provided vegetation the opportunity to gain a foothold; a natural occurrence that will soon conceal this part of the location for good.

Linking the Past with the Present

It is perfectly feasible to suggest that the whole site upon which Tweedsmuir Camp stood was a very peaceful setting between the end of the eighteenth century and the start of the nineteenth century; a meadow that resembled the appearance of the landscape on eastern side of the stream similar in aspect to the field we showed earlier. Travelling along Thursley Road towards Elstead, at the lowermost point of Houndown, one could have glanced to the east and seen a lush, green meadow, grazing cattle and lines of tightly packed hedgerows. The scene would have been punctuated by an isolated stone bridge, spanning a canal whose flow of water progressed sluggishly northwards. Autumn would have brought its own beauty as a soft, white mist complemented the undulating, dark green hedgerows. Had it not been for the two World Wars, and in particular World War Two, the site could easily have remained as it was on the day it was first surveyed in 1871.